I had the distinct pleasure today of seeing an infamous obstetric knick-knack in person today. This treasure has quite the story behind it and makes the rounds from pregnant woman to pregnant woman, from baby shower to baby shower, and I’m so glad that today’s event was no exception.
My camera phone pictures do not do justice to this piece of art.
In the odd chance that this is worthy of a segue into something educational, here is a YouTube video of an orangutan in captivity giving birth.
Evolutionary biologists have long studied the differences between human birth and that of other primates. This excerpt of Robbie Davis-Floyd and Melissa Cheyney’s chapter in Childbirth Across Cultures by Helaine Selin (2009) gives a brief summary of the “obstetrical dilemma.”
The difficulty of human childbirth relative to other primates (Stoller 1995) is thought to stem primarily from the so-called “obstetrical dilemma” or the conflicting evolutionary pressures on human pelvic shape that necessitate a relatively wide yet flattened pelvis to optimize energetically efficient muscular attachments required for bipedalism (Lovejoy 1988) on the one hand, and an open, rounded and spacious passageway for the birth of relatively large-brained infants on the other. These competing selective pressures have resulted in an obstetrical compromise that requires the passage of a fetal head that is nearly the same size or larger than the maternal pelvis. As a consequence, human babies, unlike their primate relatives, must maneuver through a series of complex orientations, called the cardinal movements or mechanisms of labor, as they travel through the changing diameters of the birth canal during delivery (Trevathan 1987, 1988, 1997, 1999; Trevathan and Rosenberg 2000) (Figure 1). As a result, researchers, with few exceptions (Walrath 2003, 2006), have tended to see human birth as more painful and of longer duration relative to other mammals and to non-human primates, though for healthy mothers and babies, not necessarily more dangerous.
The comparatively difficult nature of parturition in our species has led researchers (Rosenberg 1992, 2003; Trevathan 1999) to hypothesize about the effects of our uniquely human obstetrical adaptations on changes in birthing behaviors and cultural norms over time. While non-human primates usually choose to give birth alone and under the cover of night, human mothers almost always seek out assistance from female relatives, friends and/or experienced birth attendants.
My dilemma today, of course, was how to enjoy a plate of eggs and fruit in the presence of this poor lithotomy chimp.